Being a late 90s kid, I can’t recall the first time I heard the song “Ek Do Teen.” It was, somehow, always there. I grew up singing the track in every Antakshari match whenever an ‘ae’ landed in our team’s lap. So consequently, I had not known about Tezaab or even the fact that Madhuri Dixit starred in the number. But I always knew the lyrics of “Ek Do Teen” by heart, almost like a nursery rhyme. Such is the kind of afterlife that an iconic track like “Ek Do Teen” has in the Indian setting. Such is the kind of place it has formed in the memory of us cinephiles.
Cut to 2018, when you watch Tezaab or the video of Madhuri’s “Ek Do Teen”, it’s hard to not give some pops and locks to your neck and limbs. And there are many reasons why “Ek Do Teen” became what it became. A game-changer for Bollywood and a “life-changing” event for Madhuri. As Madhuri recalls in one her interviews, she began to be recognised as the Ek Do Teen girl after Tezaab. “I think the first taste of success I had was when I landed at the airport (after Tezaab). I came out and there were these little street urchins who come and clean your car and suddenly one of them said, ‘hey that’s that ‘Ek Do Teen’ Mohini Mohini’ girl and they came running and I was like I got recognised you know and I signed my first autograph for them,” Madhuri told Simi Garewal.
“Ek Do Teen” belongs to a time when item numbers weren’t just there to add the oomph quotient to a film but they also had a bearing on the plot. In Tezaab too, “Ek Do Teen” plays a very important role in establishing Mohini’s character: her drunkard father mooches off the money she earns from her dance performances. And “Ek Do Teen” becomes her introductory performance claiming her space as an entertainer. Dancing was a part of her identity, which is why even the posters for Tezaab feature Madhuri in her colorful outfit from the song.
Penned by Javed Akhtar, Ek Do Teen’s lyrics are just as amazing. They are simple yet meaningful. While the song beautifully captures the misery of a lover literally counting the number of days before she meets her beloved, in the film, the lyrics serve an even bigger purpose. As we get to know later, Mohini sings the song waiting for her lover Munna (Anil Kapoor) to arrive.
Laxmikant-Pyarelal’s composition added the exuberance factor to the song and so did Alka Yagnik’s sprightly voice. Choreographer Saroj Khan’s signature dance moves were the perfect balance between perky and graceful, making the nimble Madhuri Bollywood’s ultimate dancing Queen for ages to come. And hence, “Ek Do Teen” became one of the most beloved songs in Bollywood’s history.
Which is why when present filmmakers turn classic hits like “Ek Do Teen” into a crass item number succumbing to the male gaze, it is beyond disrespectful. Not just to the people who worked on the track but also to us Bollywood fans who will always attach a nostalgic feeling to Madhuri Dixit’s Mohini.